Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Precursor to Year End Lists In Which I Skewer A Bunch of New Bands That Either Suck or are Boring

A few months back, Stereogum had a feature about the "Class of 2010": The 40 best new bands of the year. I was curious and, since they had MP3s from all the bands, I downloaded in hopes of finding something new and maybe driving away my own curmudgeonly dissatisfaction about the state of modern music. And it didn't do anything but make me MORE curmudgeonly, and I wrote a little blurb about every song. After the first ten or so, I realized I shouldn't publish the list because it just shows how out of touch I am, but by the end I figured I didn't care so much if I was out of touch if this is what was being touted as the new hotness. I thought maybe it's just because Stereogum had gone corporate in the last year (try navigating that site without getting hassled into signing up for a credit card or seeing some terrible movie) or so, but indie music has gone corporate too so maybe it was a match made in heaven. I mean, hey, their totally contrived top 50 albums of the year list gave the top spot to Kanye West, so maybe indie music is dead. LONG LIVE MAINSTREAM ART ROCK!

Anyway, these are kneejerk reactions that feature my standard apprehensions and my disdain for the "We're from Brooklyn, so we get an edge" attitude. So now, as a precursor to my actual Best of 2010 list, here's this:

Stereogum's Top 40 Best New Bands of 2010

¼ of these bands are from Brooklyn.

Active Child - “Wilderness”
Man, people love these dramatic, falsetto infused vocal turns. This sounds like a more desolate TV on the Radio with some basic drum machines that they probably got from listening to Burial. It goes on precisely a minute and a half too long, into a swell of soft synths and that same old same old drum machine. Ambience and atmosphere, I guess. IT IS ATMOSPHERIC. Ok, sure. Snorefest.

Balam Acab - “Regret Making Mistakes”
Is this band's name an anagram or something? Oh here we go, the school of Panda Bear and obnoxious synthesizers laced with analog instruments! Great! Again, ambient atmospherics and the vocals sound like a muted version of the theme song for Battlestar Galactica. It's mostly pretty boring, I mean, I can imagine some kid in Brooklyn in a tanktop and a haircut toiling away over his macbook for a few days to make this song, but man, those two days would have been better spent doing lines and playing vintage Nintendo games. Is this something house? Shit house? OK!

Baths - “Hall”
This one is kind of fun! Glitchy like everything else, reeking of someone's laptop, but there's an organic rhythm to it that I'm nodding along to with a certain amount of pleasure. Again, music from the school of Panda Bear and Animal Collective like everything else, nothing I could imagine being a fun live show, but pleasant background music nonetheless.

Best Coast - “Boyfriend”
“OH MY GOD REAL DRUMS!” I thought when this kicked in and then I realized it was Best Coast, who I had my grievances with in my review of their debut LP MORE SONGS ABOUT GETTING STONED AND MY CAT. It's a nice song, but grows more innocuous upon each listen which is probably the point but I don't buy the fake nostalgia and I don't buy the fake yearning. Or maybe it's real, who knows, I don't know, it sure doesn't sound convincing. But oh man, compared to these laptop house bands, maybe I was too hard on ol' Best Coast. Maybe if they just stick to singles...

Blondes - “Spanish Fly”
Man, who picked these bands? Another boring, wispy light electro band with airy vocals, lots of reverb and sampling and blah blah blah blah blah. And what's with all the boring ass band names! Blondes? Baths? And what was this song? It's over already and nothing happened! There were some pianos, I think, and a drum machine, but everyone has a drum machine now. It's the new real drums! And what did this song have to do with Spanish Fly? Was it supposed to get me horny? Because if anything, it made me NOT horny, unless horny means hating on new music that I don't understand because I don't live in Brooklyn.

Braids - “Lemonade”
SPEAKING OF BORING BAND NAMES THAT START WITH B! Why do all of these bands sound the same. The exact same. Hey look at that, there's another drum machine, there's some synths, there's some wispy vocals (female this time). I don't actively dislike this one though, the girl's voice is nice, and remarkably dynamic compared to the rest of this trash, but still, it's nap music. Actually, the background music here sounds like the song they played on VH1's late night music video show back in the day. What was it called? Nocturnal emissions? I forget. This sounds like a nocturnal emission. OH LOOK THERE ARE THE ANIMAL COLLETIVE HARMONIES! I really like Animal Collective and all, but they've spawned a monster. So far, none of these bands have any spark, and this makes me sad and crotchety.

Candy Claws - “Silent Time on Earth”
First impression: THIS SOUNDS LIKE CHRISTMAS MUSIC. More in the throwbacky vein of best coast, airy vocals, I think there are sleighbells and sounds remotely dream poppy. It sounds like beach-gaze but made by kids who never really went outside and just stayed inside and made dreamy electro wisp-pop on their laptops.

CEO - “Come With Me”
Annnnd, back to the laptop dance music, although this guy thankfully didn't run his vocal track through a bunch of processors and effects and it sounds like an actual guy, which in turn puts emphasis on the melody, which is nice! The beat's boring, there's yr typical weird electro-vocalnoise thing going on like in all those Passion Pit songs, but really, the best thing this song has going for it is that the singer isn't that great a singer, and it makes the song kind of interesting.

Cloud Nothings - “Didn't You”
Well, if I didn't already like this band, I would probably be losing my shit right now because THEY ARE PLAYING ACTUAL INSTRUMENTS (whatever that means, in this case it means guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard) and oh man I really like these guys. Of the recent crop of dime a dozen lo-fi revival bands, these guys have the hooks. No one seems to pay attention to hooks any more, and maybe that makes me biased to everything else because honestly, a decent hook is all I really need most of the time. This is a song I'd come back to, and I know these guys are worth putting money on. Maybe not a lot of money, not like break it big money, but their debut
Turning On is a fantastic little record and this song, which is new to me, is in the vein of the best songs on that record. Maybe less economical than those jams, but I'm not complaining. It's got the hook!

Cults - “Go Outside”
Well, great, more music that sounds the same as some other shit. Cute little toy xylophone melody, I mean, the whole thing is nice sounding, but it just sounds like some more shit from Brooklyn which is apparently the only place bands make music these days. The Stereogum write up for this one is barfy to the max, reminding me why I quit reading that site in the first place.

Dale Earnhart Jr. Jr. - “Vocal Chords”
Wow, they really DID run out of band names! I'm diggin' on this song though. A more American Jens Lekman vibe, sweet sweet pop music with just the right amount of whistling. I mean, it's nice, really, other bands, is it so hard to be nice! It's nice and it feels heartfelt even if some of the vocal turns sound like the white-kids-do-motown thing that's all in vogue. Still though, that's a goddamned horrible band name. Please don't let it stick, guys! You can always make a new myspace page! Always!

DOM - “Living in America”
Do you like Crystal Castles and Justice? We're starting a band in Brooklyn. Are you beautiful enough to be in this band? OK, these folks are from Massachusetts, and it sounds much better than Crystal Castles. Wall of sound synth pop blah blah blah. It's mercifully short, which is this song's best asset.

Dominant Legs - “Young at Love and Life”
Reading the blurbs for these songs is like reading every awful thing I hate about music writing. Every cliché, every blank meets blank with one of the blanks ALWAYS being either punk or surf and namedropping upwards of five or six bands because these bands don't sound like anything but the sum of their influences. Sure, they might sound nice, like this laid back tune from San Francisco, but I mean, is anyone going to be listening to this five years from now? A year? A month? A week? Tomorrow? Does anyone care? I mean, the point is probably “IT DOESN'T MATTER THIS IS IN THE NOW” but man the now is fucking boring.

Frank (Just Frank) - “Couer Hante”
HEY LOOK AT ME, I AM THE THEME SONG TO A SHOW FROM THE 1980s. Stereogum defines this as “Coldwave,” and I wonder, is there some vault where all the different waves are kept, just in case the music scene dies and needs to be repopulated. I mean, how will I know if something is coldwave or chillwave? HOW WILL I KNOW! This song sounds like a band trying to be New Order and nothing else at all.

Frankie Rose and the Outs - “Little Brown Haired Girls”
Back to Brooklyn with music from the girl who was in all the hip bands (Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts, ok so just two) and then went solo and it sounds like, well, music from the former drummer of Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts. It sounds like that, but two years ago, outdated, and like I'm going to fall asleep at my goddamned keyboard. This song goes nowhere. There's a nice vocal line that someone can compare to Pam Berry and then blow their brains out.

Games - “Everything is Working”
No, it isn't. The Stereogum write up for this one was just a bunch of different band names. No lie. Seriously, though, do you get what I'm saying about the boring band names? One name, something common, something forgettable that someone can easily make fun of because every other band has a one word something common, something forgettable band name.

Gayngs - “Faded High”
Despite the “soft rock” inspired sound this apparently has, it's from Minneapolis (a city which tends to churn out pretty solid bands) and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon has something to do with this, so I'll give this track 7 and a half minutes of my attention and I will...enjoy it. It's a lovely, sparse bit of slowburn electronica. There's a krautrock vibe to it that I'm digging, and the interplay of all the different voices is really well done and the end result is quite beautiful. I know I bitch about song lengths but this is one of those songs that gets to be 7 and a half minutes long because well, it's doing something. It's building something, and it needs all that time and isn't just repeating the chorus a million times like everyone else who thinks their pop songs need to be five minutes long. This is my favorite so far from the “Class of 2010,” who all seem to be flunking out.

Givers - “Up Up Up”
Again with the shitty, one word boring band names! 6/40 so far! I like this because it has real guitars. They're doing the Dirty Projectors WE LOVE AFRICAN MUSIC EVEN THOUGH WE ARE SO WHITE thing and really, I'm kind of past the point of getting annoyed by it. I am annoyed by the fact that they just sound like Dirty Projectors little brother with half the creative spark. It's fun and light and it's quite listenable but man, white kids, get over playing African music. But then again, I'm the only person who listens to Graceland and feels embarassed for Paul Simon. Christ, I just clicked on their myspace and these people even LOOK like Dirty Projectors!

Glasser - “Home”
Oh sad, this isn't an Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes cover! DRAG! No, just kidding, I'm glad it's not. This band's name treads dangerously close to joining the rest of the boring band name ilk, but it's kind of different and it's a verb so they're safe for now. Very sparse, the only instrumentation seems to be hand claps, and some faint percussion before some synths wail in under the gorgeous girl vocals and the wash of harmonies that hit midway through the song. It's pretty, lovely even. Elegant, too!

Gold Panda - “Quitter's Raga”
Great, more glitchy electronica. Is this glitch-house or witch house or which house? Or bitch house? Or shit house? Cold house? Chill house? Bitch wave? Shit wave? I give up. Nice sitar, guys.

How to Dress Well - “Ready for the World”
Bon Iver vocals, pseudo-R&B backing chick harmonies, ATMOSPHERICS, all tweaked with electronics and synthesizers. Thanks, Brooklyn. Is this what music sounds like now? There's a very simple beauty to it, but man, I was done after about ten seconds. Sry bros.

Julian Lynch - “Rancher”
Aaaand, back to the midwest! Maybe I'm just biased and Brooklyn-phobic because all the people I ever met who were obsessed with Brooklyn were also a bunch of starfucking hipster dweebs. So when I hear slightly experimental folk from the midwest, I get happy and it feels warm and unpretentious and lacks the kind of “I WANT YOU TO PHOTOGRAPH ME WITH YOUR DIGITAL SLR AT A RAVE OH MY GOD” outlook on life. I want more of this sleepwalker pop. It's beautiful and quiet without being boring. Simple and minimalist without putting me to sleep. I'm engaged, I want more. I want this album. Simple without being simplistic.

Lower Dens - “Tea Lights”
Ah! Jana Hunter's new band! I always liked strangely liked her albums despite finding them a bit non-descript. She's got a nice voice. Baltimore's got some nice stuff happening too, like Wye Oak who have all of a sudden become really awesome. Lower Dens, I'm digging. Drifty alt-folk for a hazy day.

Minks - “Funeral Song”
Turbo boring band name 7/40. Apparently this band is Blank Dogs meets the Cure. They sure do sound a lot like the cure, but without any of the sad gothy charm and plenty of “Hey, we're from Brooklyn so we'll take two or three things you've heard already, cobble them together and say we're a band.” Though boring, at least it's short.

MNDR - “I Go Away”
Horrible band name, but this is a pretty solid jam. Nice lady vocals over a sparse but really nice backing track. Way chill. Seems like the sort of song that would come on shuffle and I'd have to stop what I was doing to see who it was. Girl's voice reminds me of some other singer I really like.

Mountain Man - “Soft Skin”
Oh yeah! I remember hearing an interview with these girls on NPR. I think they do Appalachian folk songs, although I thought they did it all a capella, but I won't lie, the acoustic guitar here is very welcome and well, this song is just plain fucking gorgeous. Timeless, which I think is what they're going for.

Mr. Dream – Scarred For Life
Another Brooklyn band that sounds like nothing but a combination of other post-punk bands I've heard. Great, you sound like the Pixies. GOOD JOB. Now sound like a band someone hasn't heard, please.

Perfume Genius – “Learning”
I've quite enjoyed Mark Hadreas' debut LP, for which this song is the title track. Haunting, heartbreaking piano songs with quavering vocals with heavy subject matter and coming like a cross between Xiu Xiu and Hospital Ships. This is one of the most beautiful songs I've heard all year, and it's incredibly refreshing when the thing to do today is to make the most glitch heavy, cluttered and messy music as possible. So, when something simple and gorgeous and deeply affecting like this comes along it cuts right to the core of my bitter curmudgeonly heart and I say “yes, please keep making records because this is amazing.”

Prince Rama - “Lightening Fossil”
Annnnd, back to Brooklyn where the music still sounds like a bunch of hipsters jerking each other off and making music inspired by booty jam music videos from the 1990s. I'm just kidding about the booty jams, since the drums here are more rhythmic and “tribal,” but it does sound like a bunch of hipsters jerking each other off.

Tamaryn - “Love Fade”
Atmospheric shoegaze. I'm digging on this one. It seems indebted to My Bloody Valentine instead of just playing shoegaze to cover up the fact that they can't write decent songs with loads of reverb and distortion. This is quite lovely.

Tame Impala - “Runway, Houses, City, Clouds”
Psychedelic music from Australia. I'm feeling pretty good about this one, mostly because they're not from Brooklyn. It's kind of a cool song, but a little boring. The guitar riffage that's floating in and around this song is strangely disturbing and I think I like it. And the chorus is pretty OK, but the rest is kind of like a heavy dose of reverb and muddled mixing. But I suppose that's the point. If I heard this on the radio, though, I don't think I'd change the station.

Tanlines - “Real Life”
Another band that's not from Brookly...oh wait, duh, of COURSE they're from Brooklyn. It's pretty obvious, what with the squealing synthesizer and the “tribal sounding” drums, the stupid band name, and the sweet embrace of tropacalia which white kids LOVE these days. I think mostly the song is just boring and lazy. It's really slickly produced, which I think makes it SOUNDS like it should be better than it actually is, which is a song with a boring verse and a chorus that borders on OK, because all the elements all manage to work together without completely falling apart, but it ends up being forgettable once it gets back to the verse and you realize this “synth-pop” song is almost five fucking minutes long. Skip!

Teengirl Fantasy - “Cheaters”
Oh thank GOD they're not from Brooklyn, although they might as well be. They SOUND like they're playing for Brooklyn even though they're all going to college in Ohio. They have a really great and mega ironic Angelfire website that is already leading me to dispatch this band as a bunch of lazy college kids trying to make dance music, which is what it sounds like. Great, you took a soul sample, good for you! It makes the song sound even more like a mess and where exactly is your kick coming in? I spot three places where you seem to be trying to make it happen but it never really does.

Tennis - “Marathon”
Ahhh French pop loving Denver duo! Hello pseudo-middlewestern compatriots! It's so nice to hear music that isn't from New York! It's a personal preference, really. Oh lovely pop music! Breezy and pretty and unpretentious and just made for the sheer love of nice music. And it's actually the proper length for a pop song of this caliber. The length where when it's over, I immediately click the back button. Good job, Denver! Even if you couldn't come up with a band name that wasn't boring.

Twin Sister – “All Around and Away We Go”
Groovy! This song actually feels structured. Maybe it's cuz these folks are from Long Island and far enough away from the cesspool that is the Brooklyn music scene, which I'm not a part of and know really nothing about other than the fact that every other band on this list is from Brooklyn and almost all of them suck. This song was a jam, though.

Warpaint - “Elephants”
Man, lovely female voices abound in 2010. Even in songs I don't really like, oftentimes the vocals are pretty or at least good. This one though, this is pretty good all around. A little jankety with the drums, but the guitar work is clean and hypnotic. Even if the song is a little too long and gets way too cluttered at a couple points when they're trying to be climactic, I'd definitely be into checking out Warpaint's full length.

Wild Nothing - “Chinatown”
I've listened to Wild Nothing's LP a few times but I can't remember for the life of me what it sounds like. I know I thought it sounded good enough to listen to a few times, but they seem to suffer from Broken Social Scene-itis, in which they make solid music that just isn't very memorable. I can't really explain what it is about “Chinatown” that makes me really like it. Again, it's not particularly memorable, it's lacking a really strong hook but it's very pretty and raw but still very ornate, if that makes sense. There's a lot of really pretty stuff at work here, and honestly, maybe it will be memorable after like, the twentieth listen or something.

Sounds like shit Frog Eyes.

Zola Jesus - “Sea Talk”
Oof, this is gorgeous. I was expecting something more witch-house and all I got was a very beautiful song with a very beautiful but real lady voice singing a melancholic song over some New Ordery synths and a minimalist drum machine. Emphasis goes right to her pipes, and fuck, this one just wins. It's the same thing I get from Antony and the Johnsons, if slightly less organic.

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